Kenjiro Nomura, American Modernist: An Issei Artist’s Journey

  • October 21, 2021 10:49

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Kenjiro Nomura (1896-1956) Washington Farm, circa 1934. Oil on canvas. Collection of Lindsey and Carolyn Echelbarger, Promised gift to Cascadia Art Museum
Kenjiro Nomura (1896-1956), Shopping Center, 1950. Oil on canvas. Collection of Lindsey and Carolyn Echelbarger
Kenjiro Nomura (1896-1956) Self-Portrait, 1925. Oil on canvas. Nomura Estate.
Kenjiro Nomura (1896-1956), Yesler Way, 1934. Oil on canvas. Central Washington University, Public Works of Art Project, Washington State.

Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds, Washington, now presents the first solo exhibition of the work of Kenjiro Nomura (1896-1956) in over sixty years along with an accompanying publication. Kenjiro Nomura, American Modernist: An Issei Artist’s Journey features the Japanese American artist’s work throughout his life from his early works focusing on Seattle’s urban environment and rural Northwest landscapes, to paintings and drawings capturing his life in World War II internment camps, and post-war abstractions fully demonstrating Nomura’s artistic stylistic and professional growth. 

Born in Japan in 1896, Kenjiro Nomura came to the United States with his parents at the age of ten. On his own by sixteen, painting became a constant throughout his life as he experienced not only major artistic recognition but also business success and failure, racism and wartime incarceration, and, at last, American citizenship.

The peak of his artistic success was the 1930s, when his paintings represented the Northwest in New York, Washington, DC, and the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Incarcerated during World War II along with 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, he continued to paint, leaving a record of his experience in more than one hundred paintings and drawings from his time in the Puyallup detention facility and Minidoka confinement camp.

Despite crippling challenges after World War II including the suicide of his wife, he resumed painting, developed a new abstract artistic style, and once again gained recognition—the only one of his prewar colleagues to do so. He fulfilled a long-held goal to become a citizen after a federal law barring citizenship to Asian immigrants was voided.

This exhibition in partnership with Densho, offers a chance for Cascadia to present an important artistic history of the Pacific Northwest region and ensure the history of Nomura and other Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II is not forgotten. 

The exhibition is accompanied by Cascadia’s latest book, Kenjiro Nomura, American Modernist: An Issei Artist’s Journey, written by art historian Barbara Johns, PhD with a contributing chapter by Cascadia’s curator, David F. Martin. 

Tags: american art

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